Future 500 | Finding common ground between uncommon allies

Spoiler Alert: Spoilers for Game of Thrones seasons 1-3 below.

GameofThrones_2In anticipation of the season 4 premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I’ve been binge watching the previous seasons of one of my favorite television shows. While reliving the political machinations, defenestrations, decapitations, and castrations, I was reminded that: 1) Westeros is kind of a dump, and more importantly; 2) the way in which we react to the threat of climate change is uncannily similar to the way in which the Seven Kingdoms handle the threat that are the White Walkers.

How so?

  • Denial: When it comes to climate change, a small, yet vocal minority persists in ignoring the consensus of the scientific community by suggesting the threat is imagined. Furthermore, in 2013 climate change received less news coverage than Rickon received screen time in seasons 1-3 (“Who’s Rickon?” Exactly). Similarly, Joffrey and others choose to disregard the danger posed by the White Walkers. This comes despite first-hand accounts from the Night’s Watch, and ever-increasing waves of Wildlings fleeing south to escape the approaching legion of undead led by Ice Daddy (I don’t know if the leader has a name, but I call him Ice Daddy because it just feels right).
  • Mounting Threat: The White Walkers, like climate change, become more threatening with inaction. The longer the houses of Westeros wait to act, the more difficult it will be to contain the White Walkers once winter arrives. Analogously, the longer we defer action on climate change the more likely we will find ourselves in a situation where a series of positive feedback loops has sent climate spiraling beyond our control. Earth will be like Renly following his encounter with Smoke Baby.
  • Inaction: In Westeros, summer and winter last for years at a time, so it is no surprise that there is considerable chatter about climate and its implications (e.g. Ned Stark said “Winter is coming” so many times he nearly lost his head, oh wait…). However, despite the looming winter, the struggle for the Iron Throne serves as a constant distraction from the ultimate threat of the White Walkers. The houses of Westeros can’t put aside their differences, collaborate, and devote their resources toward addressing the impending threat that is steadily marching south. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. our major houses, House GOP and House Democrat, manage to collaborate about as well as wildfire and Stannis’s navy, preventing us from enacting an effective climate policy. On both Earth and in Westeros, immediate conflicts are prioritized over the more abstract, yet potentially catastrophic, peril that will arise as a consequence of inaction.

GameofThrones_1Now that the Khaleesi’s army is stacked and her dragons are roasting truculent pimps left and right, there is a growing fear in King’s Landing of a coming battle for the throne. On earth, an understanding of the environmental and financial costs of climate change, paired with a surge in the demand for energy has led many to expect corporations and NGOs to, unproductively, butt heads….

So despite all of these similarities, why am I more optimistic for our future than I am for that of Westeros once winter arrives?

Unlike our friends in Westeros, we have the foresight and capacity to build consensus, share resources and fight this threat together. In other words, we can harness the strength and productivity of a myriad of seemingly opposed groups through stakeholder engagement. We live in a world where leaders from opposing sides can come together to address environmental issues whether it’s NGOs and corporations or the political left and right.

Having not yet read the book series upon which Game of Thrones is based I’m not certain that George R.R. Martin hasn’t already penned a grand solution to the White Walker threat. However, unless the Knight’s Watch can convince the major houses that the threat of the White Walkers is genuine, or Tyrion Lannister becomes a believer and literally slaps King Joffrey into turning his attention north of the wall, their future looks bleaker than the reception at the Red Wedding (too soon?).

Throughout the inevitable gratuitous nudity, shocking twists, and brutality of season 4, I encourage you to take comfort in the fact that we, like Brann, have “Greensight” and can perceive and solve problems before they arrive.

Illustrations by Josh Mecouch

Marvin Smith is a Stakeholder Engagement Analyst at Future 500, a global non-profit specializing in stakeholder engagement and building bridges between parties at odds – often corporations and NGOs, the political right and left, and others – to advance systemic solutions to urgent sustainability challenges.




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